Holiday Gifts for Senior Safety
Santa is making his list and checking it twice. This holiday season, make your own list—of emergency preparation plans, that is! Are you shopping for your older parents, grandparents or other senior loved ones? It can be hard to think of the perfect gift. A tie, a fruitcake, cologne, a gadget that they are unlikely to use…?
Here’s an idea for a thoughtful holiday gift: Give the gift of preparedness! Year after year, news coverage of natural and human-caused disasters raises awareness that older adults are hardest hit by the effects of extreme weather, wildfires, earthquakes and other such events. For example, 2021 saw a disproportionate number of seniors affected by wildfires in the West, devastating heat waves across the country, winter storms that knocked out power in much of Texas, and floods from tropical storms and hurricanes.
Why are older adults at highest risk? Seniors with physical limitations may be stranded in their homes, unable to evacuate, cut off from the services upon which they rely. Those who use oxygen, power wheelchairs, dialysis and other medical equipment face real danger in power outages. It may not seem very festive to focus on this reality during the holidays—but this is a great time for the whole family to show their love and caring for senior relatives by taking practical steps to ensure their safety.
“Disasters can happen anytime, anywhere, and the holiday season provides a great opportunity to ensure that you and your loved ones are taking simple steps to be prepared,” say experts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Whether families are gathering in-person, or are having a virtual celebration as many did in 2020, it’s a good idea for everyone to take a few minutes and discuss what they would do in case of an emergency or disaster.
The most important gift is the gift of time. “The public is the most important member of our nation’s emergency response team, and the more the public does to be prepared, the more successful this team will be,” the FEMA experts report. So during holiday visits, discuss with your loved one what they would do in case of an emergency or disaster. Here are some topics to cover:
- Find out the location of the nearest emergency shelter, and if there are COVID-related restrictions.
- If your loved one has medical challenges, uses dialysis, oxygen, or an electric wheelchair, find out which shelter is designated for people with special needs.
- Arrange for someone to help if your loved one needs to evacuate, and someone to check in if your loved one is advised to shelter in place.
- Create a family communications plan so everyone knows how they would get in touch if they were separated when an emergency takes place, or if normal communication channels were interrupted.
It so important to include your loved one at every step of the plan. “Intervention in a family is not going to work if it’s paternalistic or if the threat is to become less independent,” said Cornell University professor emeritus Elaine Wethington. “Family members need to work with older people’s desire to remain independent, and help them build up personal resilience factors.”
And now, time to wrap up a pretty package for that Christmas, Kwanzaa or Hanukkah gathering! Emergency preparedness supplies are practical and are an expression of your concern for your loved one’s well-being. FEMA suggests some gifts that could assist in disasters:
- A home disaster kit, including first aid supplies, food, water, blankets, flashlight and some extra clothing
- NOAA weather radio with extra batteries
- Smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers (for kitchen, garage, car, etc.)
- Foldable ladders for second-story escape from a fire
- Car kits (emergency flares, shovel, ice scraper, flashlight and fluorescent distress flags)
- Pet disaster kit (food, water, leash, dish, carrying case or crate)
- Battery powered lamps
And one more idea: this year, protecting vulnerable elders from COVID-19 is still a safety priority. Even if your loved one is fully vaccinated, it’s a good idea to wear a face covering in certain circumstances. Why not shop for some pretty, funny or holiday-themed or personalized masks that match your loved one’s preferences, fashion sense or even their favorite sports team?
Love and caring are the real spirit of the holidays. And knowing your loved one is that much safer brings increased peace of mind to everyone—a welcome gift indeed!
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For more information and preparedness tips, visit www.ready.gov, where you will find special information for older adults (www.ready.gov/seniors).